ISBN: 978-1-60489-106-5 Trade paper $17.95
ISBN: 978-1-60489-105-8 Library binding $29
Richard Matturro, a native of Rye, New York, holds a doctorate in English with a specialization in Shakespeare and Greek Mythology. After sixteen years at the Albany Times Union, he now teaches in the English Department at UAlbany and lives on an old farm in the foothills of the Berkshires. Janey is his fifth novel.
“I’m a prince.”
Drawing her legs up under her, Janey scowled at the large yellow tabby at the foot of the bed. “And princes, Leo, don’t go to Schenectady. No, neither I nor my servants nor my servants’ asses, world without end, amen.”
The cat tried unsuccessfully to lift his head. He lay on his side panting.
Janey pulled a well-worn road atlas from the shelf, flipped through the pages to New York State, then unconsciously drew back to bring the tiny print into focus. Janey did not need reading glasses.
It lurked at the fold in the map, tangled in a maze of red, blue, and green tentacles like a loathsome bug. “Sche-NEC-ta-dy,” she pronounced aloud, dwelling on the consonantal vulgarity of the word. She closed the atlas in disgust and pushed it off the edge of the bed. It hit the floor with a thud, but the cat showed no reaction. Eyeing him again, she hunched over and gingerly felt under his belly for the lump, now the size of an egg. She shuddered and withdrew her hand.
Janey rose, stretched, then padded to the oversized windows that made up the entire north wall of the studio. From her third floor vantage, she looked out on a narrow street in the old industrial south end of Boston. It was late May, but there were no trees in sight to indicate that spring had finally arrived. All Janey could see was an ancient brick warehouse across the street, the twin of the one she was standing in, except that the neighbor structure had recently been gutted and converted into modern offices. She’d watched the transformation from here, seen the plasterboard hoisted in, hung, rolled white. She’d seen the framed, dull prints—“hotel art” she called it—go up on the walls and the spider plants appear on the sills. Now through a third story window across the way she could see a stylish young woman in a leopard skin suit talking on the telephone, her stockinged legs crossed under her desk. Janey curled her lip.
By contrast, her own building still looked like the old rum warehouse it had once been. The floors were bare planks, the walls unfinished, the pipes and electrical wires slung naked from the ceiling. Running water came from a utility sink in a unisex toilet down the hall. The only elevator was a slow-moving service lift. Nevertheless, the building had met Janey’s specifications when she’d rented space in it five years ago. She’d wanted a private place to work, away from distractions. At that time she had never expected to live here.
Janey yawned, turned around. The studio had been just a big empty rectangle, thirty feet by seventy. She’d put her workbench in the center, constructed some metal shelving for her supplies. In time, for comfort’s sake, she’d added a few mismatched chairs, an old sofa, a second-hand kitchen table, a hot plate, a tiny refrigerator. Then, last of all, she’d brought in a bed.
Positioned in the far corner, it was separated from the rest of the studio by a row of cardboard boxes filled with her clothing, and Janey dubbed this area her boudoir. A wooden crate with a lamp served as her nightstand, a small stepladder her bookcase, and to complete the domestic scene, she’d hung a full-length mirror bought at the Salvation Army. Janey stepped over to this now. In one deft motion she lifted the nightshirt over her head and tossed it aside, then inspected her nude body reflected in the glass.
“Mark this, Leo,” she said, with a glance at the cat. “After you strip away the inconsequential, the insignificant, the irrelevant, there’s really only one important thing in life. It matters little what you’ve accomplished or what you’ve left undone, how many of the poor you clothed or the sick you tended. No, in the end when the final reckoning comes, the only really important thing you can say is: I didn’t get fat.”
Janey had slender hips, slim, well-defined legs, and no breasts to speak of. Her narrow face resisted sag, and she had alert but sad brown eyes. Her hair, naturally curly, had been a nondescript drab when she was younger, but as she began to gray, the outward color lightened until it now seemed nearly blond. On impulse last year she’d cut most of it off, leaving only a tight orb of curls reminiscent of Harpo Marx.
“Women just get thicker as they get older,” her mother warned her once. “After a certain age, the waist just disappears, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Janey turned sideways now, searched for any sign of a bulge in her middle. Satisfied, she glowered at the mirror as her fist shot skyward. “Hang out our banners on the outward walls!”
From a small pile of clothing on the floor Janey retrieved a pair of shorts and a running shirt with large armholes. After slipping them on, she sat down on the edge of the bed and carefully laced up her sneakers, then looked around the room. “The watch, Leo. Where did I leave the frigging stopwatch?”
She spotted it on her workbench and snatched it as she headed toward the door. Before leaving, she hesitated and regarded the tabby, still panting on the bed, his tongue hanging out pathetically like a dog’s. Janey heaved a sigh. She murmured, “Before my body I throw my warlike shield.”
The wide hallway was deserted, but the adjoining studio was open, and Janey could hear the lugubrious strains of Wagner issuing from within. When she walked by, a male voice observed, “Aren’t we up early!”
Paintbrush in hand, a middle-aged man with a ponytail and a potbelly was working on a large, wall-sized canvas. He spoke with a vaguely Eastern European accent. “What’s the occasion, Janey? It’s only ten o’clock. I’ve never known you to rise before noon.”
“The telephone woke me up.”
“The nerve!” he clucked sarcastically. “Who would call you at this ungodly hour?”
He faced her fully now, looking genuinely surprised. “The Woman in Black has a sister? I never knew you had any family at all. I thought you sprang fully grown, in complete armor.”
Janey peered at the canvas, a bathing scene picturing several young men lounging upon a dock. “Don’t you ever get tired of naked boys, Stanley?”
“Stanislav! ” he corrected her. “What’s to tire of? Want to have a drink later? I’m going to quit around three.”
“Make it four. I have to go to the vet’s this afternoon.”
As she retreated down the corridor, Stanislav stood in his doorway watching her. “While you’re out, pick up a
Edgy, cynical, and shamelessly self-centered, Janey is a 46-year-old artist with an aversion to all things female, especially motherhood. When her husband announces on their twenty-fourth wedding anniversary that he wants a divorce, she moves into her studio, an empty warehouse in Boston’s South End, but her already disjointed life is made still more chaotic when she gets a call from her estranged sister. The family’s long-vacant, Depression-era hotel is to be sold, and all their parents’ possessions must be disposed of. To complicate matters further, Janey meets Bugs, an aging disc jockey on an oldies station in Schenectady, and ends up sharing quarters with him in the deserted hotel. Thus begin Janey’s strange “twelve labors,” a series of spiritual and emotional trials that will challenge her unshakeable conviction that she is not an ordinary mortal, but a prince.